When it comes to the cemita poblana, Puebla’s famed roll for which a whole category of tortas is named, I’ve mostly experienced disappointment. Here in L.A., I’ve never been quite satisfied when seeking out the sesame-seeded, lightly sweet roll, filled with milanesa (chicken or beef), pata (foot), beef or carne enchilada, cheese, papalo, sliced avocado, and chiles with a spread of re-fried beans.
Part of the problem is that one of the main ingredients, chipotle, can easily cover up the sandwiches flaws, but the bread is key. Every restaurant in town makes their own bread, but one vendor told me clearly that you can’t really make a true cemita roll here in the U.S. After the roll, which should be crispy on the outside and airy inside, the Oaxacan cheese or queso fresco should be fresh and a little salty—cheese makes up the dominant ingredient in the sandwich. The papalo, chipotles in adobo or pickled jalapeño, and the sliced avocado also need to be fresh.
In pursuit of a good cemita poblana, I went on a mission, visiting some of the more popular spots in recent years, like Elvirita and Don Adrian, and no, not a chance, neither of these two are even close. The only vendor that was able to make a good roll, assemble the sandwich with the correct proportions, and select good products—a cemita poblana is the most exposed torta, simply unforgiving—was Los Poblanos.
Gregorio Diaz, a 30-year veteran of the cemita poblana trade, and his wife Guadalupe Sanson of San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida, Puebla, have been parked in front of a Bank of America in Boyle Heights’ cemita poblana alley (Whittier Boulevard around Lorena Street) for nine years. They bake their own nicely flavored cemita bread then load it with fresh, tasty quesillo, papalo, and the best milanesa of all the cemita joints I’ve been to here in L.A. The milanesa should be thin, and although it’s not the most important element in the sandwich, it should be well-seasoned, golden brown in color and clean, not greasy. Of course, there was ample papalo, and I chose chipotles to spice up my cemita.
Is the bread the same as in Puebla?
“No”, said Guadalupe, “the climate is different there [in Puebla]—we do the best we can to replicate the bread here.”
While Cemitero Poblano, just a short distance away, has a cemita roll closer to the Pueblan original, their cemita poblana just didn’t measure up to the finished product delivered by Gregorio and Guadalupe. At Los Poblanos, they have a great roll with a cemita that’s dominated by quality cheese, and all the rest of the traditional additions are of high quality, too—there’s a new cemita poblana in town.